TikTok has emerged as a cultural phenomenon and one of the dominant platforms for content creators. But the app has recently come under fire, facing mounting pressure from US lawmakers. Congress grilled the CEO of ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, over the company’s data-handling, and the Biden administration has banned the app from government-issued phones.
What once seemed highly unlikely is starting to feel like it could happen: a total ban of TikTok in the United States.
So, what’s a creator to do? The answer: what smart creators have done as long as the internet has been around — diversify your publishing so you're not relying on a single platform. TikTok has sparked countless viral trends, chart-topping songs, and memes that are red-hot for like three hours, it still falls under that golden rule for creators. In fact, relying on TikTok is even more problematic than other platforms. Here’s why, and what to do instead.
Even beyond government bans, there are many reasons not to rely on TikTok for sharing all of your content. First, TikTok's algorithm is notoriously unpredictable. While some creators may strike gold with a viral video that reaches millions, others may struggle to gain traction even though they consistently produce high-quality content. And even if your video does go viral, there’s no guarantee the next one will do the same. The company has been known to unevenly influence the success of certain videos. And the app encourages short, attention-grabbing videos that may not reflect a creator’s creative vision or ability.
A content treadmill
TikTok's fast-paced nature can also make it difficult for creators to build meaningful relationships with their audience. Unlike YouTube or Twitch, where creators can upload longer videos and engage in direct communication with their fans through comments and livestreams, TikTok's short-form format can feel more like a content treadmill than a community.
With multiple platforms, creators can build relationships with their audiences in more meaningful ways. One creator who’s found that to be true is Cory Connors, a sustainable packaging expert who has nearly 90,000 followers on TikTok. “I’ve been on TikTok for about three years and it’s been an incredible door opener for me,” he says.
But despite his success on the app and the impact it's had on his life, Cory emphasizes the need to spread your energy over several platforms. “It’s very important to be active on LinkedIn and YouTube and Instagram and whatever platforms make sense for your audience.” Cory walks the walk. An alum of LinkedIn’s inaugural Creator Accelerator, he engages actively and often on LinkedIn and also produces a podcast as another way to engage with his audience and share his expertise.
Another reason to diversify: money. Building a following on Instagram or YouTube in addition to TikTok can provide more stability and longevity in a creator’s earnings. TikTok is infamous for its limited monetization. The primary way creators can get paid on TikTok is through its Creator Fund, a pot of about $300 million that’s split between a pool of eligible creators (those with at least 10k followers and 100k views in the last month) depending on the number of views they get.
The average payout for earning a million views on TikTok is about $20–$50, according to Influencer Marketing Hub. By comparison, a creator might earn $1,000–$6,000 for the same amount of views on YouTube.
Creators can also try earning tips on TikTok Live videos, but this also goes through a qualification process and can yield equally low payouts. As a result, many creators who rely solely on TikTok have found themselves struggling to make a living. That’s why it's important to explore other income streams like sponsored content, merchandise, and platforms that offer more, greater opportunities for monetization.
Here today, Vine tomorrow
As we’re seeing, one big reason to diversify your audience is that you have no control over how long any one platform survives. “We never know what will happen to social media platforms,” Cory says. “Remember MySpace?”
Or, for younger readers — remember Vine?
When Vine first hit the social media scene, it had a very similar profile to TikTok: it was easy to make content and the chances of going viral were high. In many ways, Vine was TikTok’s predecessor. However, with its six-second time limit, Vine found it nearly impossible to monetize. Twitter eventually bought it, only to shut it down.
Here’s the lesson for TikTokers of today: many Vine creators used the platform’s downfall as an opportunity. They took their audiences and went to greener pastures, especially Youtube and Instagram. Pivoting to these platforms helped to launch the careers of viral creators such as Logan Paul and David Dobrick.
For a particularly interesting example of a successful platform pivot, take a look at Drew Gooden. Gooden had countless viral Vines, including one of the all-time most popular: “Road Work Ahead.”
When Vine called it quits, Gooden had to restart his internet career from scratch on Youtube. After testing out different formats and genres, he began to make videos commenting on internet culture, films, and memes using his signature Vine comedic style.
He found Youtube’s straight-to-camera approach more personal. And today, he has more than 3.4 million followers on his YouTube channel. He also recently took home a Streamy Award, which honors the best in online video. But that success certainly didn’t come easy. Gooden had a hard road to walk, as did many other Vine creators who had to start from scratch.
How to own your audience
Finally, diversifying your content gives you more control over your audience. Despite the rising dominance of AI and continually advancing social technology, I’d strongly advise you to remember the power of simple, effective tools. One of a creator’s most powerful tools: an email list.
Email remains ubiquitous. I still open emails from creators and brands I’ve followed for many years. I still engage with much of my audience — old and new — via email. It’s a great way to build and maintain relationships for the long haul with your audience. It’s also a great way to interact one-on-one, ask your audience for feedback and needs, and to experiment with new kinds of content. And best of all: no one can take away your email list.
Another tool that I’ve seen work very effectively for content creators is Discord. Discord began as a platform for gamers, but now it’s transformed into a hub for communities of all kinds. Many creators are taking their audiences off of TikTok and creating active, intimate spaces for their community members to convene. The best thing about a platform like Discord is that not only can your community interact with you; they can also interact with each other. Your community can start to generate and maintain its own momentum.
Whether or not the ban happens, or TikTok gets acquired by a US company, or nothing happens at all, TikTok will continue to influence internet culture. You just don’t want it to be the only platform you rely on. By diversifying, creators can reach new audiences, establish a stronger brand, increase their income, and focus on what they do best: creating.
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